Ahoy from Cat Island, Bahamas!
After looking at the forecast, we decided that we needed to leave Conception Island and head towards Cat Island, which is about 22 miles to the NW. The forecast was for intense squalls around Conception and strong winds as you headed N. Before the high winds arrived we decided to make the passage.
We left Conception with very light winds and a heavy cloud cover. We left at 7 AM because storms typically build build during the day. We motored towards Cat Island and watched thunderstorms form all around us. Sheer dumb luck routed us through the storms and we got to the NW tip of Cat about 4 hours later. From there we headed to Frenandez bay. Our luck with the rain ran out and we motored the next 10 miles in light rain, but luckily no strong winds. Fernandez Bay is a lovely, half moon shaped bay with wonderful holding in sand in about 10' MLW. There's a very nice resort there, but due to some past conflicts with cruisers over their honor-system bar, the guide books indicate that cruisers are particularly welcome. Since it was raining, this didn't effect us as we just stayed aboard. (Later when we had a car and stopped at the resort, I noted that beers were $5.50 compared to $3 elsewhere. I will say that the resort was very nice.)
The next day we decided to move 22 miles N to Bennett's Harbor. The forecast was for building winds, but when I got up the winds were 15-20 and gusting to 25. Those winds were fine, so we headed out. The winds had picked up and I decided to run with the jib only. Soon the winds were 25-30 and gusting higher and by the time that we were half way there, the winds were 30-35 kts (35-40 MPH) and gusting to 43 kts (50 MPH). The bay fell away as we progressed and at one point we were 4 miles offshore. It's amazing how quickly the waves can build and we had 5' seas with a 3 second period. Believe me, 3 seconds translates to STEEP seas. With the jib up we were doing 7 kts and not rolling too much, but Unicorn was motoring and was rolling like crazy.
The real problem came when we had to turn directly into the wind, drop the jib, and motor the last 4 miles to the anchorage. I have to go forward to drop the jib and standing on the bow with 5' seas washing across it is a bit exciting. The halyard jammed as it was coming down, so that didn't help and as a result of everything I didn't do my best job of flaking the jib. But I got it secured and as I told Sue, I wasn't up to my knees in water, so it wasn't too bad.
We pounded our way into the wind and seas and when we ran into the 5' wave sets, BlueJacket's forward progress would fall to less than 2 kts. We'd then crawl our way back into the 3 kt range. Believe me, those last 4 miles took a long time. As we were coming in, the forestay suddenly came down and went over the side. Luckily it didn't get into the prop and I was able to retrieve it without any problem. The forestay is attached to the mast with a long U-shaped connector and the connector snapped at the top of the U. Eventually we made it into the harbor and dropped anchor in 10' of water over sand. Everyone was VERY glad to get in.
Sue and I headed into Bennett's Harbor in search of a welder. We got the name of two of them and we also found a car rental shop where we arranged for a car for the following day. The next day BJ, Diane, Sue and I headed out to explore Cat Island. Cat Island is about 40 miles tip to tip and is typically 2 miles or less wide. We headed N to Arthur's Town, which is where Capt. Black's Welding was located. After checking with a few people we located Capt. Black, a rosta guy, who said that his welder was located elsewhere and he could do it later in the day. He also suggested looking for a welder named Bucket who was located on the S end of the island. Not wanting to leave my broken part with this guy, we decided to go looking for Bucket.
We kept going N and the road got pretty rough for the last few miles. To say that it was lightly populated would be an understatement. We turned around before we made it to the tip, but we did head down a newly cut road to the windward side and what I think was named Pineapple Bay. It's in the middle of nowhere, but wow, was this a beautiful bay! It was a huge half moon shaped bay lined by palm trees and white sand beaches and there wasn't a sign of humanity. An extensive reef system protects half of the bay and with the winds blowing 30+, the surf at the reef was impressive.
After we left there, we headed S. Other than occasional settlements, there's not a lot on the island. We were surprised that we didn't see any banks and relatively few shops. I'm really now sure what people do around here. I'd bet that the largest employer is the government. When we got to Old Bight we started asking where we could find Bucket. We headed to his house, but he wasn't home. We followed further leads to a gas station, airport, power plant and we gave up when someone said that he was fishing. We kept heading S and when the road forked, we headed E towards Port Howe. We got into some very secluded areas and were happy that the car didn't break down. On occasions we saw pickup trucks pulled off to the side of the road without anyone present. Considering that General Noriega used Cat Island as a major center for his drug operations, we didn't want to appear to be snooping.
On our way back N we stopped at Comer Hill, which is the highest point in the Bahamas at 206'. Atop this hill you'll find The Hermitage, which is a miniature replica of a European Franciscan monastery. It was built starting in 1940 by Father Jerome, who was the primary architect for many of the area churches. He built all of the structures by himself, which is an amazing feat. The view from the top is equally amazing.
After several trips to Old Bight, we eventually found Bucket who stick-welded the part for us. Unfortunately after inspecting the welds this morning, I don't have a lot of faith in it. I think that the biggest problem was the wind. Bucket was using a stick welder and the rods are designed to produce a gas that shields the area being welded. I think that the wind was blowing the gas away and as a result the weld is very porous. I'm hoping that it will last until Eleuthera where we might be able to find someone who does TIG welding.
Somehow or another we drove 170 miles on the 40 mile long island! There was a lot to see, but that was a lot of driving. For those of you complaining about the cost of gas at home, it $5/gal here! When we got back to Bennett's Harbor we found that Unicorn was not in the same location that we had left her. There were two other boats in the anchorage and they said that at about 2 PM Unicorn started dragging. They eventually got onboard, power her forward, re-anchored, dragged again, pulled up the Hydro-bubble anchor and swapped it for a Fortress and then re-anchored and stayed put. Then they sat aboard for a few hours to "make sure that she didn't drag again" while clearing the refrig out of 11 cans of bears! I appreciate the fact that they helped, but I certainly would never have raided the refrigerator!
We're stuck here for at least another day. The winds are 25-30 and gusting above that. The seas are quite large and the area between Cat Island and Little San Salvador island is known to be bumpy in normal conditions. The winds are supposed to get down to 20 kts on Sunday, so hopefully we'll be out of here then.
Have a wonderful Memorial Day!
-- Geoff & Sue
P. S. On Saturday I installed 2 shackles to hold the forestay instead of the piece that was welded. It was quite exciting to be on top of the mast in 20-30 kts of wind!
For the cruiser:
The charts and guide books imply that a few boats can fit into the harbor at Bennett's Harbor. There are at least 3 sunken wrecks which take up a lot of space and it's much shallower than the charts show. You would need a very shoal draft and 2 anchors to pull into there. There is a brand new wonderful government dock at the mouth of the harbor that you could pull into and tie up in an emergency. There's no fuel here.
We rented the car from Scratcher Auto Rental at 242-354-6070 which is just to the S of the road leading to the govt. dock. The rental was $80 + $5 insurance.
There are no stores in the immediate vicinity of Bennett's Harbor. The best grocery store that we found was in Smith's bay. The mail boat comes in on Fridays.
Customs and Immigrations is basically only at the airstrip in Fernandez Bay. We re-did our paperwork there with some very friendly officials.
Log ID: 964
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